Legal Spotlight Sue Jeffers is a legal consultant to the League. You may contact her at Michigan Municipal Speed Limits: The Courts and The Legislature

A deputy sheriff stopped Anthony Michael Owen (defendant) for allegedly driving 43 miles per hour in a 25-mile- per-hour zone in the Village of Saranac. As a result of the stop, defendant was given a preliminary breath test which he failed. He was arrested for two alcohol-related offenses. The defendant moved to suppress the evidence obtained against him on the basis that the deputy had no lawful basis for stopping him since the speed limit on the unposted road was 55 mph pursuant to the statutory general speed limit under MCL 256.628(1). Evidence indicated that Saranac had no public record of any modification of the statutorily defined speed limits under MCL 257.627 and that the road where the stop occurred lacked any speed limit signage within or without the village boundary visible to drivers traveling southbound. Testimony established that the speed limit was 55 mph but, if properly posted, would have been 45 mph. The deputy testified that he mistakenly believed that the speed limit was 25 mph since other streets in the village had 25-mile-per-hour posted speed limits. After several hearings, the district court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence and to dismiss the charges. The circuit court reversed that decision, and the defendant entered a conditional guilty plea and filed an appeal. Several procedural hearings followed and ultimately the matter was heard by the Court of Appeals. At the Court of Appeals, the defendant argued that “the circuit court erred by vacating the district court’s suppression and dismissal ruling because the deputy unlawfully stopped defendant in violation of his constitutional rights and that the circuit court incorrectly ruled that the deputy made a reasonable mistake of the law despite lacking a reasonable suspicion that defendant violated any law.” The Court of Appeals reviewed case law relative to the Fourth Amendment noting that “an investigatory stop, which is limited to a brief and nonintrusive detention, constitutes a Fourth Amendment seizure. “In order to effectuate a valid traffic stop, a police officer must have an articulable and reasonable suspicion that a vehicle or one of its occupants is subject to seizure for a violation of law.” The Court noted that “reasonableness is a fact-intensive inquiry” and “that the basis for making a stop is known as reasonable suspicion.” A violation of the Fourth Amendment requires suppression of “unlawfully obtained evidence.”

The Court of Appeals also found that the deputy did not make a reasonable mistake of law since the Motor Vehicle Code in 2006 established the rule of law that speed limits for unposted roads was 55 mph. If properly posted the statutorily defined speed limit would have been 45 mph. Further, since 2006, villages could not have blanket village-wide 25-mile-per-hour speed limits within their boundaries. The Court of Appeals held that circuit court erred “because analysis of the totality of circumstances in this establishes that the deputy lacked an articulable and reasonable basis for making the traffic stop. The deputy’s subjective mistaken belief that the speed limit was 25 miles per hour lacked objective reasonableness.” The Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. Editor’s Note: MCL 257.627 which governs speed limits was amended in 2019. As of the preparation of this column, House Bill 4014 would amend MCL 257.628 which prescribes procedures for establishing speed limits on public highways and provides for exceptions to those general standards. This column highlights a recent judicial decision or Michigan Municipal League Legal Defense Fund case that impacts municipalities. The information in this column should not be considered a legal opinion or constitute legal advice. People v Owen, COA: 339668, July 23, 2019; SC: 160150, December 30, 2020 .




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